Spark and TVNZ secure Rugby World Cup rights, but can't guarantee access

by RNZ / 16 April, 2018

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Richie McCaw and Dan Carter after the All Blacks Rugby World Cup win.

Spark and TVNZ have secured the rights to broadcast the 2019 Rugby World Cup - but will everyone be able to watch it?

Spark cannot guarantee it will be able to bring the Rugby World Cup to households with poor broadband coverage in New Zealand, but says it will work to solve that problem in the next 18 months.

The deal would also include broadcasts of the Women's Rugby World Cup, Rugby Sevens and the Under-20 championships.

Telecommunications company Spark's managing director Simon Moutter said there would be free and paid content available to everyone - not just Spark customers.

Mr Moutter said people would be able to watch the matches on free-to-air TV, mobiles, tablet devices and computers.

"While we won't be releasing pricing details until next year, I can say there will be a menu of well-priced options, ranging from individual match passes through to a full tournament package," he said.

He said he could not guarantee that every New Zealander could get access if their broadband connection was weak.

"No. But we've got 18 months to see if we can solve that problem to everyone."

He said there were "tens of thousands" of people who might not be able to access the service, but Spark would try to boost coverage to those areas by partnering with other broadband providers.

"We're down to single-digit percentages who would have any struggle with the broadband service.

"We would partner with Vodafone and 2degrees to extend the coverage of wireless broadband in rural New Zealand, so that will pick up a number of places between now and then.

"And if it still doesn't solve the problem, we'll sort out a solution for the local school or the rugby club to make sure people can see it."

He said the company would also work hard to ensure its broadcast would not be affected by large numbers of viewers.

"We, of course, will be extremely concerned to avoid that outcome, but you know we have a very large number of New Zealanders streaming every night in New Zealand."

"A lot more New Zealanders can get a streaming service than own a skybox, so this is liberating access to the content.

Seven of 48 matches free, range of streaming options

The Rugby World Cup will be held over six weeks in Japan between September and November next year and will feature 48 matches between 20 teams.

Mr Moutter said there would be seven of those games including the opening game and the final that would be broadcast live on free-to-air TV, but could not confirm the seven free games would include the All Blacks.

"They'll work as a promotional thing," he said.

"We've got exactly the same number of live matches that were available at the last rugby world cup on free to air, there were seven last time.

"This is an expensive tournament to buy, and we do have to monetise it."

He said there would be various options available for streaming the other matches, however, and Spark was looking specifically into providing better accessibility than had been available in the past.

"So you can pay to watch a single game, or for the entire tournament ... lower [cost] than most people would expect actually."

He expected a tournament ticket would cost about $100.

"The problem with a high-price buffet of services is you end up with very high prices points and low affordability."

He said it would be available through "that sort of classic streaming service".

"A very modern, what we call 'a la carte' way where you can pick and choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch it all delivered through streaming services.

"The ideal solution will be to download an app just like a Lightbox or Netflix or Fanpass if you're a Sky customer, and we'll produce a similar app for this event and you'll download it onto whatever device you want to watch it on."

He said advertising would be similar to how All Blacks games were provided on television currently, with no interruptions during live play.

TVNZ providing free-to-air, commentary

The TVNZ side of the deal would also provide commentators.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said sporting events had a huge following, and live matches would be broadcast ad-free.

"The tournament is a major addition to our sport event line-up, and builds on our recent Commonwealth Games coverage," he said.

It is estimated that NZ Rugby earns up to $70 million a year for its television rights.

Sky Television, which has held the broadcasting rights for years, earlier announced it was no longer the preferred bidder, saying it was an economic reality that it could not have every match of every sport that New Zealanders liked to watch.

Sky Television recently halved its cheapest plans following a loss of 37,000 customers in the second half of last year.

However, cost-cutting led them to record a net profit of $66.7 million for the six months ended December, up from last year's $59.5m.

What it means for fans

How will Kiwis be able to access RWC2019?

New Zealanders will be able to stream the matches over their broadband or mobile connection, via an app that will be compatible with a wide range of devices - including TVs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. TVNZ will offer selected matches free-to-air.

How much will it cost?

Spark won't be releasing pricing details until next calendar year but intends to offer pricing options to suit people's differing preferences and budgets. This will include a full tournament package and individual match passes.

Which games will be screened free-to-air via TVNZ?

These details will be released in due course, but we can confirm there will be seven live matches screened free-to-air, and this will include the tournament's opening match and the final.

Will I have to be a Spark customer to watch the RWC2019?

No. We will be streaming the tournament over an app that will be available to all New Zealanders, no matter who their broadband or mobile provider is. The app will be compatible with a wide range of devices. It will be free to download and then matches and packages will be offered on a pay to watch basis. Selected matches will be also be available free-to-air via TVNZ.

What sort of free content might you offer online via the app?

Those details will be released next year, but the content is likely to include - for example - highlights from the week's play or delayed full match content.

What about people who don't have good broadband coverage - particularly people in rural areas?

The vast majority of New Zealanders can and do already access streaming services very effectively and that number continues to grow with UFB and RBI programmes roll-outs continuing. However, we are very mindful that in late 2019, some people may still not have adequate coverage to stream the matches at home. We want to do our best to give as many New Zealanders as possible to watch - so we are looking at a range of options. We're not able to give any details right now.

What tournaments are included?

Men's Rugby World Cup 2019 Japan Sept-Nov 2019

Women's Rugby World Cup 2021 TBA TBA

Men's/Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 San Francisco July 2018

Men's World Rugby U20 Championship 2018 France May-June 2018

Men's World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 TBA TBA

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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